“The ultimate midfielder”: Why Scotland’s Caroline Weir is quickly becoming a fan favourite at Real Madrid – scout report
Manchester City Women may have finished inside the WSL’s top three last season, but there have been some serious questions raised about their overall ability to compete for the title, and the fact that a number of players opted to leave the club this summer has only added to the belief shared by many that something is not quite right at the club.
Those passing through the departure lounge were not fringe members of the squad either, with England internationals Lucy Bronze and Keira Walsh moving to Barcelona Femení, Georgia Stanway joining Bayern Munich Frauen and Caroline Weir switching to Real Madrid Femenino, where she has made a flying start to life in the Spanish capital and has really looked at home there.
This tactical analysis will focus on Weir, looking at her individual qualities on the field and seeing why Real Madrid were so desperate to sign her and why she has already become a fan favourite. The scout report will look specifically at her awareness, positioning and how she has worked with her new teammates to create opportunities, as well as why the whole squad has been lifted by her arrival.
One important characteristic that all players need to display on a football pitch is awareness, with the top performers in the men’s and women’s games always constantly aware of what is happening and where the spaces are, and this is something that Caroline Weir has excelled in throughout her career.
Being aware of where the spaces are allows players to make clever passes around the field, opening up opportunities and helping teams to play with quick transitions. Real Madrid like to play fast football, keeping the ball moving, and Weir has been critical to their development of this style of play since joining the squad in the summer.
Her body orientation is particularly important here, because, by being so open, she has given herself different passing options and can pick the right one, with one choice being to pass along the pitch and keep possession whilst another is to attempt a longer pass into the attacking half of the pitch and create an opportunity.
Here, with the time to aim her pass, she opts for the latter, having seen that Spain forward Athenea del Castillo is in the perfect position to receive the ball and run towards the goal area. It wasn’t a perfect pass from Weir, with Rosenborg Kvinner captain Mali Lilleås Næss stepping out and winning the ball initially, but Real Madrid recovered well and del Castillo did eventually manage to run forwards and into the final third.
Weir, meanwhile, did not simply sit back after sending the ball forwards, and instead ran up the field at speed and ended up being the one to finish the move off, finding the top corner with her effort. This is an important point to make because it shows again how valuable a player she is and why she is a perfect fit for the tactics that Real Madrid want to play with this season under head coach Alberto Toril.
However, it is her passing qualities and ability to find space that Real Madrid will really like, with this pass map demonstrating how Weir can locate different areas of the pitch and either start attacks or keep possession, depending on the situation. The fact that she has made so many passes in just four Champions League matches indicates how much trust her teammates have in her, and it is clear that in her short time at the club, she has become central to what they are building as a team.
Real Madrid will no doubt be hoping to improve on last season’s third-placed finish in Liga F (as the Spanish women’s top flight has now been renamed to) and quarter-final finish in the Champions League, and doing so will depend on how often they can get Weir on the ball and how effective she can be at moving it around the pitch, but the early signs are very positive in that regard.
Weir’s spatial awareness is once again evident here, as she notices that Rosenborg, in their desire to get out and close down Spain forward Esther González, have left space open in their defensive line that can be exploited, and she instantly makes a run forwards to position herself in that gap.
By doing so, she not only provides González with a passing option, but also relieves some of the pressure on the forward, because Rosenborg now have to move some of their players back in order to cover the Scotland midfielder, and that causes momentary indecisiveness among their ranks. As a result, González has time to take the ball out of this congested area and keep the attack alive, and, even though she didn’t touch the ball, Weir was once again the player who made that possible by being aware of what was happening and how she could help her teammate out.
However, awareness is not only about passing the ball around and finding spaces, as it is also about making the right decisions in possession and knowing when to take risks and when it isn’t appropriate to do so. Here, Weir needs to make this exact choice, as she has a teammate running up the wing and offering her a forward passing option that will take the ball behind the Rosenborg players.
The trouble with this is that the corridor in which the ball would need to travel in is tight and would risk it being given away, and Weir recognises this and so turns to look for another option, with another of Real Madrid’s Spain internationals, Claudia Zornoza, coming up the field and giving her a better passing option, and one that will enable the team to keep possession and keep probing the Rosenborg defence before finding the best way through.
It is moments like this that helped Real Madrid to average 62.71% possession across their four Champions League qualifying matches, and Weir’s ability to not rush passes and always assess her options has been vital to them having so much control in these games.
Having a strong awareness enables players to take up good positions around the field, as they recognise where they can be effective in both attacking and defensive situations. At Manchester City, Caroline Weir was an important player in getting into the right areas and both supporting attacks and protecting the defence, and it is something that she has continued to do since moving to Real Madrid Femenino.
Here, the Spanish side are in Rosenborg’s third of the pitch, with del Castillo crossing the ball into the box towards González. However, Weir has an even more important role than González in this situation, as she can see more of the pitch and can therefore move to where she feels she would be most useful. In this case, that is to stay back and position herself in the space behind González, which is an area of the pitch that Rosenborg are not watching.
With her in this area, she can now tidy up if the initial cross doesn’t work out, with her in a position to claim the ball before the defenders can react, and she is also offering an alternative passing option if González were to be suddenly closed down here.
However, the other reason that Weir’s positioning is so important here is that the ball ends up going over González and travels towards the nearside of the pitch. Næss, in the blue circle, turns to chase after it, but Weir has an advantage as she was able to spot this happening earlier, with the Scotland midfielder successfully preventing Rosenborg from clearing their lines here. It is tiny details like this that have made her such a coveted player and one that many coaches would have loved to have in their squads this season.
As mentioned previously in this scout report, Weir is adaptable and can drop back when needed in order to help her side keep the ball. In this case, she is sitting in front of the defenders and has received a pass from Mexico right-back Kenti Robles, and is now in a similar position to an earlier example in the scout report. However, this time, her focus is not on launching an attack and is instead on keeping the ball, so, rather than looking for a longer pass, she sends the ball across the pitch towards Denmark left-back Sofie Svava, in the red circle.
The key point here is that, in just two passes, Real Madrid have moved the ball from one side of the pitch to another, which demonstrates their confidence and the way that they play with quality in possession, and this was what they were at times missing last season. Therefore, this is something that Weir has added to the team, and is another reason that her signing was a shrewd one by the Spanish side.
This analysis has so far focused on what Weir brings to Real Madrid when they have the ball, but she has been just as important when they are out of possession too. Here, she has again tracked back to help her teammates out in their own third, with Manchester City trying to find a route into the goal area. Lauren Hemp is the player currently weaving her way towards the goal, and her pace and ability to change direction at will always makes her a dangerous opponent.
However, being a former teammate, Weir knows this and so comes back to take up a position just behind Hemp, with the effect of this being that the England winger now can’t turn back or pass across the pitch and has had several good options removed from her. As a result, she is now forced to keep running towards the goal area on her own, meaning that Real Madrid can tackle her and regain the ball, ending the threat.
Whilst it sounds like a simple point to make, the key thing is that winning the ball back with as much ease would not have been possible if Weir had not come back to help isolate Hemp, as Manchester City could have simply passed across the pitch or gone backwards if the Scotland international had not been there. Therefore, again, her positioning has been an important factor in her new team’s strong early form.
Working with teammates
It was mentioned in the introduction that individual Real Madrid Femenino players have benefitted from Caroline Weir’s arrival in the Spanish capital, with her quality helping them to lift their own games and to make the team as a whole a much more dangerous side to play against, and this is something that has been evident every time they have stepped out onto the pitch.
Whilst it has been shown that Weir can play in many different roles, the position that she will likely play in more often than not is attacking midfield, with Toril hoping to use her creative abilities to bring others into the game, as well as giving her chances to get into areas where she can shoot at goal herself.
In this case, she has received a pass from Svava, who is a quick and attack-minded player who likes to make runs up the pitch and support attacks. However, in order to thrive in this aspect of her game, she needs to have someone in the middle of the field that she can work with to move the ball through opponents and into spaces behind them, which is a quality that Weir has demonstrated on plenty of occasions.
As this shot assist map shows, Weir would be a good player to have in this pivot role, as it is clear that she is at her most dangerous when passing balls into advanced areas from outside the goal area. The fact that she has only had 10 touches in the penalty area during their four Champions League matches so far also indicates how, by choice, she likes to stay back and be involved in the build-up to goals rather than pushing forwards and getting into the box.
Going back to the previous image, her return pass towards Svava was fractionally late, with Rosenborg able to close the gap and clear their lines, but the one-two opportunity was there and it once again demonstrated how Real Madrid want to get on the front foot and attack teams this season, and how Weir will be central to that tactic.
Another player who has really benefitted from Weir’s arrival in Madrid has been del Castillo, with the partnership that has evolved between the two players in forward areas giving Real Madrid a major threat in front of goal. It almost appears to be telepathic between them at times, with each knowing where the other is and what they want to do. This situation demonstrates that point, with del Castillo sending the ball into the goal area without first looking to see where Weir was, because she instinctively knew that the Scotland midfielder would time her run perfectly and be there to meet the cross, which is what happened.
Del Castillo is a player who likes to have a partner at the top of the pitch, and normally that has been González. However, with both forwards tending to drift wide at times, they have needed someone else to make runs into the box and act as a false nine when the central areas are left open, which is a role that Weir has taken on since her arrival in the Spanish capital.
Someone else who has benefitted from Weir’s intelligence and ability to work with others is Robles, with the full-back tending to get up the field when her team have possession and offer support to those in the middle. This season, she has shown herself to be good at delivering balls into the middle, with her crossing accuracy standing at 69.2% across Real Madrid’s four Champions League matches so far, so getting her into these areas has been essential in helping Real Madrid to create goalscoring opportunities in the final third.
Here, Weir has identified the space behind her that Robles can move into and has come towards the ball, which grabs the attention of the two Rosenborg players nearest her and leads to them also moving forwards, assuming that Weir is looking to get on the ball. However, this was never the intention, and, once the pass from France midfielder Sandie Toletti, another of the club’s summer recruits, goes towards Robles, Rosenborg are unable to react in time. Therefore, again, Weir has played a key role in creating the opportunity, having recognised Robles’ strength and used her own movement to help her new team to take full advantage of it.
In conclusion, this tactical analysis has looked in detail at Caroline Weir’s performances during her short time at Real Madrid Femenino, identifying three main areas of her game and showing why each has helped her to become a vital part of Alberto Toril’s team. The wide variety of qualities that she brings has seen her labelled as “the ultimate midfielder” in recent years, and it is hard to disagree with that assessment when considering how much she offers her teammates.
However, when looking for one reason that Real Madrid added her to their squad this summer, it has to be her ability to operate in different roles during matches, as that means that she can fit into any system that the team looks to play and makes her indispensable regardless of who they are playing.
The player that Weir has said she idolised when growing up was France legend Zinedine Zidane, and, given the impact that she has had during her short time at the club so far, there is no doubt that the Scotland international has the potential to become just as influential for Real Madrid as he was.